The story goes that my Grandpa Roy, my Dad’s Dad, gave me this bear. The oldest picture I have of him is from 1980, but I think I got him before that, probably around 1978 because I remember being around five or six years old when I got him for Christmas.
He was under the tree at my Grandpa’s house in Anaheim, the house with the huge Magnolia tree in the front yard that always seemed to have one flower at the very top. When we came into the house on Christmas Day, I saw him under the tree and secretly hoped he was for me instead of my little brother.
We ate cookies and played with the dogs for what seemed like an eternity. Why do adults make children wait to open presents on holidays? Is it to torture them or teach them patience? All I know is that it’s a practice I gave up the moment I became a parent. In fact, I did it before that. Any time I had the chance to get a gift for a kid, I’d always find some way to let them open it as soon as they saw it much to the dismay of the parents I knew. I just never could see the point of delaying the inevitable and besides, I never couldn’t wait to see their joy when they opened them.
We had finally gathered around my Grandpa’s Christmas tree to exchange and open gifts and I made a bee line to that bear with the big red ribbon around his neck. My Grandpa, that great big man with jet black hair, soft smile, and giant hands, took me in his arms and told me quietly that teddy bears were invented to guard children from nightmares. He explained that this one was a “pot-bellied bear” and was especially good at it. He was trained to sleep all day long so that he could stay up all night and make sure nightmares never came near his friends. I remember taking it very seriously and I named him Edward. He hasn’t spent a night away from me since that day.
As a child, I always had very vivid nightmares. They ranged from vague feelings of abandonment to horribly detailed graphic dreams of death and fear. Dreams have a way of being so terrifying when you’re wrapped in the darkness of a quiet bedroom but seem rather silly when described out loud in the daylight, but I’ll do my best to describe the one recurring nightmare that has always terrified me. It even comes around today from time to time.
I wasn’t sure what triggered it, but I could always tell I’d have this nightmare before I went to sleep. I’d get ready for bed with an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Once I was snuggled into my bed, my Mom would come and tuck me in with a kiss and turn off my light and that’s where it would start to snowball into night terrors.
I’d do everything a kid could do to stay awake, talk to my animals, sing to myself, get up for water and a trip to the bathroom. Sometimes I’d even spur myself to walk out into the livingroom and to talk to my mom. I’d ask for a snack or maybe another kiss goodnight.
I never could understand why my parents were so angry and frustrated about my nocturnal wanderings. I swore to myself that when I became a parent, I’d always be understanding about why a kid wouldn’t want to go to sleep. But then once I was a parent myself, I found out it wasn’t that easy. I could easily understand my children’s nighttime fears, but I was so tired myself that it was hard to consistently respond in sympathy. These are the things we learn as we experience life!
After numerous attempts to get out of going to sleep, including sleeping in my little brother’s bed, I’d reluctantly climb back into my single bed, pull my Raggedy Ann and Andy sheets up to my neck, put my back against the wall an attempt to keep my eyes open until sunrise.
It was always in vain. Eventually, that nervous feeling would grow and fill my throat and ears. My room walls would fade and my bedroom furniture would push away from the center of the room. I’d find myself walking a circle around the middle of my bedroom floor with my dresser and writing desk growing beside me “Wonderland” style. The stark fear I felt was maddening.
I can’t say what I was afraid of. There was nothing overtly frightening in this dream, just a feeling of dread that overwhelmed me. I’d begin to take a few more steps around my room when the floor in the middle would drop out into darkness and I’d fall into it in slow motion. That’s when the terror would hit me and I’d wake up in my bed shaking. That was the end of it. You’d think I’d sit up the rest of night or call out for my parents, but I never did. After I woke, the fear would be gone. I’d roll over in my bed and go right to sleep wondering what in the world was so wrong.
My Grandpa must have been told about these nightmares and had thought to give me the bear in the hope of helping. It worked most nights. Most nights, I’d get into my bed and face the wall, Edward the Bear would face the room, and I’d fall asleep easily. Some nights, though, the nightmares would come back, and I’d wake up and scold him for sleeping on the job. He always looked so remorseful that I forgave him. I’m sure he had perfectly reasonable excuses, though he never tried to explain them to me.
That bear has never left my side. I remember my mother asking me if I’d keep him even when I grew up and got married. I proudly told her I’d never marry anyone that didn’t love Edward as much as me. He’s even went on camping trips with me when I was kid, including “Outdoor Education” camp when I was a sixth grader.
I’m in my forties now and these days I rarely have nightmares like I used to, but sometimes they come back. I’ve learned what triggers them though, anxiety. When events and worries overwhelm me, the nightmares return. I’ve even had that same falling down dream a few times in recent years, but Edward has always been there. I’m a side sleeper and I’ve grown accustomed to having him under my arm for support.
His name was changed from Edward the Bear to Edward T. Bear in my twenties but years later, when my young sons asked what the “T” stood for, I quickly renamed him Tiberius after Captain Kirk. They approved heartily. There was a time when I thought I would share that bear with my boys, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. He’s a part of me.
The past few years, he’s really started to show his wear. He has no mouth at all any more. His neck is wobbly from all the stuffing he’s lost from holes I sewed up with needle and thread. His ears no longer stand up and his eyes are scratched and dull. I considered putting him up on a shelf instead of sleeping with him under my arm to protect him, but I can’t. Ever since the Toy Story movies, I can’t bear to put him up no matter how threadbare he becomes. I tired to think of a way to reinforce his skin a bit and came up with patches. Every time he gets a hole, I put on a new patch. Each patch is sewn over the side of another patch, since he original fabric is so thin. It’s working. He’s beginning to look like a patchwork quilt.
I love that stinky bear. We’ve been through a lot. Growing up. Boyfriends. Break-ups. New jobs. Marriage. Babies. And now my babies growing up. He’s been covered in my tears, listens attentively, and never judges or gives bad advice. It’s crazy, I know, but that bear goes with me when I die. I can’t leave him behind.